When the Indiana Pacers dealt Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer, Indiana’s return of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis was almost universally panned.
Oklahoma City wasn’t the only team in pursuit of George. The Cleveland Cavaliers were, too, and reportedly had a deal involving Kevin Love on the table. Soon after the move was announced, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert told reporters that Indiana “could have done better” than just Oladipo and Sabonis.
Oladipo remembered that comment and used it as motivation as the Pacers battled the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday. All he did was drop 32 points in a convincing 98-80 road win.
“You could say it added fuel to the fire, I guess you could say,” Oladipo said per ESPN. “But that was so long ago. It came up recently, obviously, because we were playing the Cavs in the series, but I’m aware of what he said. Can’t control his opinion. All I’m focused on is myself and becoming the best Victor Oladipo possible.”
Oladipo is in the midst of the best season of his career, averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 37.1 percent from beyond the arc — all career highs. In Sunday’s win, Oladipo, who was named to his first all-star team this year, was 11-of-19 from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3-point land.
When George was dealt, some wondered if Indiana was in store for a rebuild. After all, Oladipo’s production through his first four NBA seasons was nowhere near the level of George, especially as the second option behind Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. But Oladipo, whose previous career high was 17.9 points per game, took the challenge head on and led his team to 48 wins, good enough to enter the postseason as the East’s No. 5 seed.
Still, the Pacers were considered significant underdogs against LeBron James and the Cavs. In fact, every Yahoo Sports and ESPN writer picked the Cavs to win the series, so there was already plenty of motivation beyond Gilbert for Oladipo and company. Oladipo got plenty of help, too. Myles Turner (16 points), Bogdan Bogdanovic (15 points) and Lance Stephenson (12 points) joined Oladipo in double-figures and showed that the first round won’t be a cakewalk for the Cavs like it has been in recent years.
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